(image) One of the things that pops out of the “Big Five” chart I just posted, at least if you stare at it a bit, are the places where each company needs to get strong, quickly. Apple is weak in social and one dimensional in ad solutions. Microsoft needs to improve its device products, build out its entertainment distribution muscle, and keep improving search share. Google wants to get better in productivity software, social, and payments. Amazon needs help in devices, social, and OS. Facebook has work to do in many areas, including devices, search, payment, and voice.
When the five largest companies in our space have a lot of needs, they tend to pull out the wallet and go shopping. Sometimes they buy their way into partnerships, but often, they simply buy.
Hence my fifth prediction for 2012: Expect Internet M&A to heat up, big time. It’s not just going to be the Big Five who drive this trend, it’ll be a whole mess of players looking to consolidate power and press into the double-digit growth market that is the Internet (and by Internet, I also mean mobile and enterprise, of course). Yahoo’s new CEO Scott Thompson knows how to buy companies and has a data focus, for example. That could mean competition to purchase marketing, ad tech, and data companies like Blue Kai, Quantcast, or MarketShare. MediaBank is on a tear and will be on the lookout for similar kinds of companies. IBM has a deep interest in the marketing tech world, expect Big Blue to make some big moves as well. And Twitter will certainly be flexing its muscles, now that it’s bulked up with nearly a billion in fresh capital.
If I had to name a few companies I expect to be in play amongst the Big Five, they would be:
Instagram. This searing hot proof-of-iPhone app is not only a strong social play, it’s a massive image and data goldmine to boot. I could imagine a bidding war for Instagram between Apple (which really needs a social win), Twitter (which could really use a strong photo play), Facebook (which might buy it to keep it out of Apple or Google’s hands), and Google (who would see it as a way to sex up Google+ and Picasa). Of course Yahoo would vie for Instagram as well, but I’m not sure it could win.
Pinterest. It’s social. It’s media. It’s data. Is it a mayfly? Perhaps, but I think it’ll be in play in 2012.
Square. Everyone loves small business, and everyone loves payments. Visa already owns a stake, but that won’t stop Dorsey from landing where he feels the fit is best. That might be Amazon.
Evernote. If any of the Big Five are looking to bolster their productivity suite, Evernote might pique their interest.
These are just off the top of my head, and I’m not a VC (or a daily tech reporter for that matter), so I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Suffice to say, I predict 2012 is going to be a banner year for tech and Internet M&A. Who do you think will be swept up, and why?